Currently Listening to: Morning Kiss at the Acropolis by The Halloweens
Thanks Baby Yoda
Since the new season of The Mandalorian has been dropping recently, it has become that annual tradition of purchasing Disney+ for two months and then saving $7 for the other 10 months of the year. This isn’t to say that what the service has to offer isn’t bad, I just barely have enough time as is throughout the week for tv that I’d rather just stick to Netflix and Hulu (get better holiday movies Hulu and Netflix please). The time that I do have the service though I like returning to the movies I loved growing up and some Disney ‘classics’ that I’ve just never gotten around to until now (Cinderella and Robin Hood to name a couple).
Specifically, I like returning to Pixar movies the most. It seems like the ones I LIKED but didn’t love get so much better when I’m older with the exception of A Bugs Life (sorry Dad). The Incredibles is one that I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as I do now and same with the original Toy Story. Ratatouille and Finding Nemo were ones that I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed but somehow got better too. The one that surprised me the most out of all the 2000s Pixar gems though was WALL-E.
I never knew how to feel about WALL-E growing up. Sure, I liked it but I definitely didn’t have the strong connection that I did with something like Up or Ratatouille. It just seemed like a fun robot love story that had a message about the environment too. Cool. Fine. Anyways, have you seen this rat? It can cook!
This weekend I was trapped inside since I had floor duty for my residence hall at school and was kind of left bored and drained from a homework heavy week. My girlfriend had mentioned that she was watching WALL-E the other day since she hadn’t seen it since it first came out. I thought, yeah, I probably have returned to this Pixar movie the least out of all the 2000’s ones. Probably haven’t seen it in almost a decade.
So, without hesitation I tuned into the 90 minute robot movie that isn’t Ratatouille and for whatever reason had a very strong emotional reaction to the film. So much so that I’d go as far to say it’s now in my top three Pixar films. If there was ever a film to call “wonderful” it’s this one. I grew up thinking that WALL-E’s biggest takeaway was to protect the environment and that humanity corrupted it and the main focus was the love story of WALL-E and EVE. Actually no. The environmental message is the main focus along with the robot love story, but the hidden meaning underneath it all is how great humanity can be if we don’t take nature for granted. Allow me to elaborate.
The Power of the Voiceless
Everyone always talks about how powerful the first ten minutes of Up are and how it really sets the tone for the entirety of the story. The visual storytelling set to the Michael Giacchino score works perfectly. However, I think WALL-E perfects the visual storytelling arguably better than Up. Sure, it’s not the tear duct destroyer that Up is, but there’s so much going on in this dystopian, apocalyptic world that the robot lives in. Within the first ten minutes you get treated to the scenery of garbage, trash to be exact. Lots and lots of it. So much so that it reaches the heights of skyscrapers. While WALL-E and his cockroach buddy are compacting trash on what seems like lower ground the pan out to see that he is piling onto this monstrous tower of landfill is almost jaw-dropping. I’m instantly intrigued. Not by the fact that they managed to make a cockroach cute, but the amount of questions I have about how this world came to be.
For these first 30-40 minutes of WALL-E, there’s practically zero dialogue other than robot noises and the occasional word or two from EVE. Aside from that, the apocalyptic score by Thomas Newman really establishes the tone for the film and the drab world that the characters reside in. The best part is I can’t take my focus away from this. Even as a kid I never was bored by the lack of dialogue because there’s so much much going on that words are the last thing on my mind.
Through small interactions WALL-E has with the world around him, he sort of serves as the audience. He himself is still discovering Earth too. While trekking the wastelands you see all these other WALL-E machines that are broken down, and pretty much garbage too. WALL-E’s innocence and naivety tells the story. He doesn’t think about what happened to the others of his kind he just uses his tracks when his are broken. It’s little things like that which paint a bigger picture of what has happened in the years leading up to what is the year 2815. The biggest inference though is the virtual advertisement of the space journey that was planned over 700 years ago meant to protect human life since it was nearly unsustainable at the time. So the WALL-E robots were intended to clean it up so that human life can once again prosper.
This space voyage that’s advertised always kind of frightened me as a kid. I always thought, wow what if this happens to us one day? What if we get so polluted that we have to move into a whole other world or spaceship?
The best part of these first 30 minutes is WALL-E’s established personality. You expect him to have nothing but robot motions and antics, but he seems to have developed emotion and feeling. It almost presents sort of this nature vs nurture kind of debate. Did the abandonment of this robot lead it to develop humane behavior? The biggest indicator of this is when he returns to his home (which is basically one big WALL-E robot) and there’s all these things that he finds interesting throughout the day and his fascination with the musical Hello Dolly. He becomes fascinated with the dancing and singing as well as the scene of love that the two characters in the film share on screen.
What I love about Pixar movies is that all their films have strong lead characters that defy the expectations that the world has about them. A rat that is viewed as dirty and small can cook, a monster that is big and scary is afraid of a 3 year-old and protects the child instead of scaring it, and with WALL-E it’s a robot that possesses human qualities and emotion. It goes against the normal narrative and I dig it.
Lost in the World
As stated prior, the remains of Earth present so many questions for the viewer. Not ‘must answer’ questions but just intriguing ones. I think it’s very interesting how there’s a nightly dust storm that causes WALL-E to panic and take cover in his home. What I didn’t notice as a kid that I realized watching this time was maybe the reason he is the lone survivor amongst his dead robot coworkers is because they got lost in the dust storm and since these robots run on solar power they couldn’t reach the sunlight since they were trapped underneath all this dust. So when EVE awaits to be picked up after discovering life can exist on Earth again WALL-E covers her with a trash can so she doesn’t lose her power.
Speaking of EVE, when she arrives to Earth in search of potential life sources she too becomes fascinated with the items that WALL-E has found. Their equal fascination with these normal everyday items show how far disconnected the world has become from normal life that was once lived 700 years ago. Sustainable life has also become such a foreign concept that not even WALL-E who has been there for years and years would think to seek it out because why would he? It wasn’t his ‘directive’ as EVE puts it.
Star Trek Into Darkness
So after WALL-E follows his new love interest onto the spaceship to the Axiom voyager we finally get consistent dialogue from human characters and even robots. WALL-E follows EVE and tours the spaceship at the same time where all of humanity is kept and finds that humanity isn’t at all what it is in Hello Dolly. Instead of the people dancing, singing, and holding hands, people are glued to their chairs and screens. They are more concerned about what they are having in their meals in a cup than exploring the world around them. Everything is catered to them directly to their screens. They have pretty much zero interaction with the people around them too. We see a woman video chatting with someone else but that’s pretty much it. This limited world is brought to them instead of discovering it on their own.
If you haven’t seen the film, SPOILER ALERT, the robots running the ship are evil. It’s every fear that humanity has of robots and that’s them taking over the world. The craziest thing is no one on the ship even saw it coming. AUTO, the autopilot, serves more as the command instead of the captain himself. I thought it was interesting when WALL-E accidentally knocks one guy named John out of his chair, the robots create a path around him for the other people floating in chairs to follow and alert him to “not attempt to get up” showing that the robots will do the work for them and don’t want the humans to assert any form of power over them.
The darkest part of this entire film is the active attempts that the robots make to prevent humanity to ever return to Earth. That little robot dude that works with AUTO tries multiple times to ship the plant out into space so that humanity can solely depend on them instead of acting for themselves. That life isn’t as foreign of an idea as it seems. We depend so much on our technology as it is that this movie kind of scares me in a way. So much so that I didn’t really touch my phone and read instead for the rest of the day.
This seemingly wonderful utopia was created for humanity to function on and serve as a replacement Earth until Earth was clean enough to return to, but ends up being a corporate scheme. Everything is advertised by the company BNL or Buy n Large. The humans are distracted by this corporation and are fascinated only by what is advertised to them like a new blue colored outfit instead of the old red ones. This film has a lot to say about the comparison of higher power and technology which was really invigorating to me. It shows how huge conglomerates like even the comically named Buy n Large uses the technology that we excessively depend on to make their influence more apparent and easily accessible to us. That’s why when the two people that WALL-E accidentally disconnects from their chairs are so fascinated by the world around them. They are fascinated by the fact that they have a swimming pool and by something as bizarre as a robot like WALL-E.
Oh Captain My Captain!
One of the most underrated characters in the Pixar movies is the captain. The Captain is such a great depiction of ambition and desire. The first time we are introduced to the character, he is lazy and sluggish sure, BUT there is one line of dialogue that hints at him wanting to be outside the box. When he realizes he slept through his morning announcements, he says “AUTO why didn’t you wake me up?!” but then mutters “ugh! The one thing I actually get to do on this ship”. This hints at him wanting to do more than just sit around all day. Even when he says his morning announcements he seems so lifeless and bored of this lifestyle, especially when he sarcastically gets excited about telling everyone to get their cupcake in a cup.
This explains why he gets so excited when the plant is brought up to his control room. He is confused on what returning to Earth would look like, but he is intrigued since it’s something outside of routine. One line I never understood until last time I watched was the part when the computer presents him the manual on how to get back to Earth and he has a hard time saying the word ‘manual’. As a kid I thought does this dude really not know how to read? How is he the captain if he’s illiterate? Then I realized it was meant to demonstrate that he had never done anything like that for himself before. Even though that line is still a bit of a stretch.
I don’t think it’s a total reach to say that the captain represents modern humanity as a whole prior to discovering the plant. As much as he seems bored with trying to make his life interesting and waiting for his coffee to be brewed for him, he feels somewhat hopeless and you can easily tell by his voice.
The defining and I think unintentionally most beautiful moment in the film is near the climax when AUTO attempts to destroy the ship and WALL-E because with life sustainable on Earth, humans won’t need robots as much. After the captain gets knocked over, he does what no human has done in years… stand up and walk. It’s a scene that is sort of played for laughs, but when it’s put in the context of him fighting for what he believes will benefit humanity it got me emotional. The captain also said one line in the film that made me sigh of sadness: “I don’t want to survive! I want to live!” Same captain, same…
In the Context of Coronavirus
I know, I know the last thing you want to hear about is COVID but hear me out. WALL-E is a more necessary film than we give it credit for. Sure, it’s a beautiful message about how we need to take better care of our planet, but it’s also a message of how we can make Earth a place where we don’t just survive but live. I started to get a little teary eyed by the end of the film because they were given a second chance at life. When the captain is getting excited about growing all different types of plants and produce and the kids are very willing to help, it really is an optimistic view of humanity. Especially optimistic comparatively to the beginning of the film. We are so willing to take care of what we need to survive and live when we are deprived of it for so long which is ideally what I think would be wonderful after quarantining and vaccines start to be released.
WALL-E should be a wake-up call for everyone to enjoy the life that they have before it gets taken away from them. I’m sure at the beginning of the film when they had to evacuate the planet they felt as though they were leaving everything they knew and loved behind. Sure, they may have adapted to their new lifestyle as time sort of told, but there’s so much that we would be losing if we didn’t do everything we could to maintain a healthy life. So often we get too comfortable with what is given to us instead of venturing out and rediscovering what was meant for us.
Underneath it All
So what makes this film about a robot chasing his love interest into space and bringing a plant to headquarters have to do about a powerful message about humanity? It’s simple. It’s the discovery and wonder that we have when we open up our eyes to new opportunities. The entire ship had become entirely dependent on the robots that were meant to make life ‘easier’, until something interrupted that. Everything there was eerily boring until either someone got knocked out of their chair or when the ship was in danger. Anything out of the ordinary brought them closer to reality instead of a virtual one.
Both people that WALL-E accidentally knocks off their floating chairs has something significant happen to them. John and Mary suddenly felt something for each other after they were knocked out of their seats and their hands touched while looking outside of the ship to see WALL-E flying around. Love must’ve been such a foreign concept to them, love of all things! The component of life that brings in more life!
WALL-E was able to discover the beauty of love, growth, and even humor with nobody even around him. The nurturing effect of humanity through things like music and movies like Hello Dolly where people are happy and dancing with each other helped humanize WALL-E and do what media says robots can’t do, have emotion. This would not have happened if WALL-E had not seen the beauty and vivacity of humans. You’ve got to wonder if that was the only human interaction he had before all the others moved off into space.
This movie filled me with hope and faith. Hope that we will see days soon enough where we can interact with each other and learn more about the world through each other’s experiences. I have faith because I firmly believe that we can get back to where we came from eventually. WALL-E made me realize more why we can’t take Earth for granted and why we can’t choose comfort over control. Control needs to be taken into play when things are going down the tubes. Like the movie shows us, we can make this world full of garbage and dust storms or we can help it grow and make it live, not survive, to its full potential. We have love, ambition, and wonder to offer, why not take time out of your day to utilize it and make this seemingly dark world we live in right now more human?